I wasn’t a fan of Sinead O’Connor before going to see her performance at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall on Monday night, but I was prepared to be won over. After all, the union of a seasoned artist of some notoriety with the Ulster Orchestra would surely be something special. Sadly, it wasn’t.
The orchestra performed splendidly in reinterpreting a selection of O’Connor’s songs. The only problem was the singer herself. For the entire performance, she remained moored within a three-foot radius at one end of the stage, shuffling lazily back and forth with no attempt at communication with the audience. Such was her detachment, that I felt she might as well have situated herself behind one of those plastic noise-reduction screens that stood across the stage.
Towards the end of the performance, O'Connor stated she hadn’t talked because this wasn’t just her gig, but everyone’s. Yeah, but we came to see you Sinead, even if it was for free. Maybe you have to pay to get a glimpse of the energy that tore up the Pope’s picture, riled against imperialism and converted to the priesthood. You could be forgiven for thinking an impostor had been wheeled on stage. At one point, I couldn’t work out if O’Connor was nervous, bewildered, bored or embarrassed. Maybe, she was all of these things.
As for that voice… Well, where was it? She whispered her way through Don’t Cry For Me Argentina and croaked through Nothing Compares 2 U with the occasional yelp echoing former glories.
Yet, perhaps as a testament to O’Connor’s lack of prowess, both these songs were the strongest of the set. The Emperor’s New Clothes seemed to act as an unwitting sub-title to the tone of the evening. Her own material seemed to just amble along, although the reggae influenced Lamb’s Book of Life acted to lift the torpor towards the end of the set. I couldn’t believe she got a standing ovation. I remained firmly rooted in my seat.
“Oh, but she’s all grown up now and has three or four kids,” said an equally nonplussed friend afterwards, seeking to excuse Sinead’s lack of vitality.
Yeah, but so has Madonna, and she was writhing away like a mad thing on the TV the other night.